BB: ** We're just working on some things that we feel like will help our football team here over this next few days. Three opponents we can possibly face, we'll try to get some work done on them preliminarily until we know for sure who it is. Really we're just trying to grind it out here and find ways to improve.
Q: Does that just mean splitting film three different ways of the three opponents or are there other ways you can scout the teams?
BB: We have people on our staff that are always working ahead, usually one week ahead or two weeks ahead in this case. They're working on three teams and we're working on things we need to work on relative to just the Patriots no matter who we play. So it's really just a combination of those things.
Q: Is it helpful that you've played the Bengals already?
BB: Yeah, that was back in October. It's been quite a while. I think any time you play a team you pretty much have to start all over anyway, even if you have some information on them and background. Enough time has passed between the time we played Cincinnati and now that we still have a lot of work to do on them.
Q: Specialists have become better, kickers are better from longer distances and punters are stronger. Are all those hidden yards in special teams even harder to come by than they were when you were a special teams coach? Does that make those plays even more vital?
BB: I think it kind of evens out. Their punters are better, our punters are better; their kickers are better, our kickers are better. I think it's all relative. But yeah, certainly there's a lot more coaching technique, I'd say, sophistication in the kicking game than what there was 15, 20, 25 years ago, no question, or 35 years ago when I was coaching special teams. A lot of it is the same, but a lot of it is different. Some of the rules have affected it. Also just the evolution of seeing things work, seeing schemes evolve and for lack of a better word, copycatting them. As we've talked about before, when I came into the league, as an example, there was no spread punt. Nobody would spread and if they did, the first thing anybody would do was rush them. That was because the snappers weren't involved in the protection so you were a guy short. Now every team's snapper is involved in the protection. Every team spread punts, even against rushes. That really, I would say, started when [Steve] DeOssie went to Dallas and they did it with Steve. Other people saw it and found guys and started teaching it and got comfortable with it. That's a scheme and a thing that's involved – I'm not saying that the snappers are that much better now than they were in the '70s or in the early '80s but once Steve and once that became – Cardinals did it, there were two or three teams doing it – once that was effective then everyone was looking at it saying, 'We should be able to find somebody who can do that. Give us an opportunity to have two split guys and not get them held up from a tight position on the line of scrimmage.' I think there are other things like that, other aspects of the game that have schematically evolved, just like we've seen on offense or defense whether it be blitz-zone schemes or multiple receiver sets and so forth and so on. That's a little bit of an evolution and sophistication of the game.
Q: Whether it's Jacoby Jones in the Super Bowl last year or the plays that you guys made in 2001, so many postseason games between evenly matched teams come down to the kicking game. Do you anticipate we'll see the same things over the next few weeks with games turning on that?
BB: Well, who knows what the difference in a game in a close game is going to be. But certainly the kicking game is always an important part of every game and any close game, especially when you have points involved, which we have with the field goals but potentially in a return game or blocked kick or that type of thing. Those are kind of bonus points. I don't think you ever go into the game thinking, 'We're going to get seven points from our punt return team or we're going to get seven points from our kickoff coverage team to recover a fumble and run back for a touchdown.' Those are kind of bonus points you don't really count on. You hope you get a couple of them over the course of the year but statistically that's about what it's going to be. So, a big play in that area is a huge play really because it's like bonus points. I mean really I've always had a great appreciation for the kicking game. I think that I was fortunate when I grew up when Coach [Wayne] Hardin was the coach at Navy, he emphasized the kicking game a lot. Plays like the quick kick and some plays in the return game and so forth that kind of caught my eye as a kid and always sort of stayed interested in. I had an opportunity to coach it and I think it's one of the great things about football is it brings that third element to the game besides offense and defense. It adds the kicking game, the specialists, all the different rules and strategical situations that can occur on kickoffs, punts and field goals and fakes and all those kind of things, field position plays. I think that's an integral part of the game. Of course, back when the game was invented and even back into the, let's say the '30s and the '40s, [Robert] Neyland at Tennessee and a lot of his disciples followed the old rule of thumb on field position: inside your 10, punt on first down, inside your 20, punt on second down, inside your 30, punt on third down. You didn't punt on fourth down until you got the ball outside of the 40-yard line, until you got close to midfield. You played defense, you played field position. Of course, we see a lot less kicking now than we saw back then and of course we see the specialists now that we didn't see back then too. So you had the Sammy Baughs of the world, or all the single-wing tailbacks for that matter, that were punters first, runners second and passers third. The game, I would say, has gradually taken the emphasis off of that part of the game but it's still a significant part of the game. I personally would love to see the kicking game remain as a very integral part of the game so that the kickoffs are returned and so that extra points are not over 99 percent converted because that's not what extra points were when they were initially put into the game back 80 years ago, whatever it was.
Q: Would you be in favor of –
BB: I would be in favor of not seeing it be an over 99 percent conversion rate. It's virtually automatic. That's just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do. The Gino Cappellettis of the world and so forth and they were very good. It's not like it is now where it's well over 99 percent. I don't think that's really a very exciting play because it's so automatic. I don't know how much excitement there is for the fans in a touchback. It's one thing if it's a great kick, it's another thing when, let's just say for example, over half the kicks are out of the end zone, then I wouldn't really say it's a great kick. It's kind of almost a normal part of the game. I personally would love to see those plays be the impact plays that they've been. As you mentioned, where would last year's Super Bowl have been without the 108-yard kickoff return. The play that that added to the game was a spectacular play. I mean forget about who you're rooting for, but just as a fan of the game, it was a spectacular play in the game that I think all fans – unless you're a 49er fan, but you know – that all fans objectively love to see those plays as part of the game.
Q: You have such a great voice and command and you've been doing it for so long – I know you just want to coach the football team – but will there be a point in your career when you want to help at the level when you can help shape the game?
BB: Right now I'm just trying to help our football team prepare for the playoffs. I'm not here to solve the world's problems. I'm just trying to win a football game.
Q: Were punts on first down common back then?
BB: Sure. Well, inside your 10, yeah. Inside your 10, sure. Absolutely. That was like [Robert] Neyland's – it was a rule. There was no decision. It was, you're inside your 10, punt on first down and play defense. [You] wouldn't take a chance on turning the ball over if you had bad field position. Again, it was a running game and there were less first downs but that was very – and again, all of his disciples which were numerous, that yeah, I would say back in the '20s, '30s…and then you get the players like Don Hutson that, everybody talks about how great of a receiver he was, and he was, he was the first great receiver in the National Football League, he was a great kicker too. That was another important part of his job. Back in those days, you had to have a kicker, you had to have a punter and the punter was probably the most important position on a lot of teams. That kind of took priority over, like I said, passing or running for the single-wing tailbacks for us.
Q: When you hired Bill O'Brien did you see NFL head coaching potential in him at that time or did you see him develop over time in your organization?
BB: Well, I love Billy O'Brien but right now really we're on the playoffs and our situation. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on another coach or another team. I don't even know what team we're talking about here.
Q: What are some of the big, major differences, if any, of the bye week process during the regular season opposed to a bye in a playoff situation?
BB: There's one huge, major difference: we know who we play. We don't know who we're playing. You have a bye week in the regular season, you know who the next opponent is, you know who the one is after that and you know when you're playing them and who you're playing, when you're playing them, what the sequence is. We have no idea. That would be the number one huge, major difference. Obviously the point in the season we're at is different than when you have byes during the regular season which fluctuates from year to year or team to team depending on when they fall. But the opponent is, that's number one.
Q: You mentioned not being able to count on getting seven points out of your special teams on a weekly basis. But was there something about that 2001 team that maybe gave you an idea that you can't count on it but there was something different about that team in terms of their special teams ability?
BB: I think anytime you have a unit on your team that's playing well you hope you're going to get production from them, whether it's your offense scoring a lot of points, whether it's your defense creating turnovers and scoring points, whether it's your special teams creating field position or scoring points. I'm not saying that they all impact the game. You can make a big play in the kicking game and it not result in actual points on that play but it could lead to points, like LeGarrette's [Blount] returns did. Those weren't scoring plays but they led to points or vice versa. It's no different than having a good kickoff coverage play and then you go down there and make a stop on defense and then you get the ball back at midfield and you're knocking on the door again. Kind of like what happened in the Baltimore game. We made the fourth down stop and then we punted and they returned it and they were on the 35-yard line or whatever it was. I'm just saying it's hard to create runs in football. You see them all the time in basketball, as an example, but in football they're harder to create. The way you create them is you score, you have a good kickoff coverage play, then you get a stop or a turnover on defense, then you score again, then you have another good kickoff coverage play. That gives you an opportunity to be able to string a few points together. Conversely, if you can make a play on the kickoff return, it really does a lot to negate your opponent from being able to create that momentum. Even if you don't score, if you have a good return, you make a first down or you don't make a first down, you punt the ball to them, they're 80 yards away from the goal line, statistically that's a hard place to score from. Not that we don't see those drives, but percentage-wise it's a hard place to score from: 80, 85 yards away from the goal line. I think those plays are huge momentum plays and the field position eventually, statistically, will result in the point differential. They're huge plays. But they don't always result in scores. But I'm just saying the ones that do result in scores: interceptions for touchdowns, fumbles for touchdowns, kick returns for touchdowns, blocked punts for touchdowns, at the end of the year, how many of those are there on average in the league? A couple a team. So, if you get one that's points that you generally don't get so it's great to get them.
Q: Do you coach when the right time is to take a risk like you said with the touchback being so common that somebody is eight yards deep in the end zone, now might be the right time or look to take it out? Do you and Scott O'Brien coach that?
BB: Yeah, we do. Of course we do, we definitely, yeah. It's not just do whatever you feel like doing.
Q: Or trust the returner's instincts.
BB: I would say that the way that it is in the National Football League now, I would say for the most part if you have confidence in your returner and your kickoff return team, what's the downside to bringing it out? They get you on the 15, they get you on the 16, wherever they get you. You don't get back to the 20-yard line so you lose a couple yards of field position, whatever that's going to be, three, four, five yards. But you get the opportunity to make a big play. You get an opportunity to get the ball to your returner and if you feel confident about your return team then that's what you're willing to risk. You're willing to risk a couple yards of field position for an opportunity to return. The other thing I would say is a little bit overrated in my opinion is how the deep the ball is in the end zone. Everybody wants to talk about, 'Well, it's three yards deep, it's four yards deep, it's seven yards deep, it's two yards deep.' That's true and that's great but that doesn't say anything about the amount of time the ball's in the air. The hang time of the kick is, to me, more about than the depth of the kick. You put a ball nine yards deep in the end zone with 3.8 hang time, I don't see any problem bringing that out. You put a ball one yard deep in the end zone with 4.5 hang time, that's a whole different ballgame. Again, that's where it comes into judgment by your returners, by your short returner who is helping your deep returner gauge how deep he is, how long the ball is in the air and again, how fast the coverage team is. Not all teams cover at quite the same rate. Some teams have faster guys, some guys have bigger guys: more linebacker, tight end, fullback types. Other teams have more DB, safety, corner types. I mean there are a lot of things that come into play there but I think that the general rule of bringing the ball out of the end zone or not is to me, is saying how deep it is in the end zone is missing 50 percent of the boat. I think that the hang time of the kick is as much, if not more, important than the depth of the kick. I would say to a certain extent also where the returner has to go to get the ball. It's another thing for the returner to have to run sideways and handle the ball versus being able to catch the ball coming straight ahead, step into it and create his momentum back up the field, which again, a good returner can negate or pick up, I would say, some extra yardage there by his timing of the catch and his momentum going forward versus catching it over his shoulder, going sideways or going backwards or whatever it is then that's just like added hang time.
Q: You just never know what the makeup of your team is going to turn out to be. Is that a learning process throughout the season and all of the on and off field that's happened with this roster it seems like they've weathered it a lot better than maybe the 2009 team?
BB: I think it's an ongoing process. I think it starts the first day of OTAs and the first day of training camp and goes all the way through the season. Really your roster is constantly evolving, even if it isn't evolving it's evolving because your younger players as they spend more time on the roster and their role becomes let's just say bigger, in some cases, not all or as the roles shift on your team from week to week or through the course of the season based on whether it be injuries or performance or whatever it happens to be that it's constantly evolving. The chemistry and your team relationships are changing throughout the course of the year. When do you know what it is? I don't know. I'd say certainly you know a lot more by midseason than you know in May or August or September, let's put it that way, because you've been through it more. You've been more battle tested. You've been through more weeks of preparation. You've been through more real games, regular season games. You've been through more whatever ups and downs, whatever challenges your team faces over that period of time, which every team faces a number of them. You get a better feel for individually and collectively they'll deal with those. I don't know if there's a set date but you certainly know a lot more about your team I would say in midseason, let's just call it the seventh, eighth game whenever that is – end of October, early November – than what you know in September or August or the spring, which is why so many of the early predictions are usually so far wrong because nobody knows. You see teams that finish at the bottom of the league one year finish at the top of the league next year. You see teams that finish at the top of the league one year finish at the bottom of the league the next year. That's because there are so many changes and variables that occur during a football season that until they occur you just don't know how it's going to go.
Q: Talking about predictions, do you have a good feel for what will happen in these four games this weekend?
BB: No. I don't think anybody – I mean, how can you? Look at last weekend. I don't know. I saw something where Pittsburgh had like a one percent chance of being in the playoffs or whatever it was, some ridiculously low number. Yet they were within however close you want to call it to being in the playoffs – a missed field goal. However you want to slice it. However much that field goal missed by – a foot or whatever it was. Nobody knows. The league is so competitive that – look, it isn't even who has the better team. It's just who plays better. Who plays better on that day, how those two teams match up and who plays better in that one competitive situation. It's not four out of seven or two out of three. You get one opportunity to do it and whatever team can perform better on that day moves on. Who knows who that's going to be?
Q: With the play-action pass and the effectiveness of it, selling the run to the defense, Tom Brady's ability to carry out the play fake, has that always been a thing he's done well and what comparison comes to mind as quarterbacks who really sold the run before dropping back to pass?
BB: I think that's an interesting question. I would say, some defensive play-calling is just based on whether or not you think they're going to run, even if they don't run, if you think they're going to run, that makes you vulnerable to some aspects of the passing game. I would say that most defensive players get their keys from the offensive line and the tight end. Now, unless there's no fake at all, which sometimes you see a quarterback fake this way and the back go the other way and you're like, 'What's the point?' But if there's any kind of legitimate mesh at all, I would say that the bigger key to the play is the action of the offensive line and the tight end more so than the quarterback and the back. Although the quarterback and the back can certainly help the play, I'm not saying that, but no matter what they do, if it's not tied in with the line of scrimmage: the pad level of the offensive linemen, the aggressive nature like it would be in a running play then I think that the two just don't mesh and a good defensive player will be able to recognize that. It's a combination of all those things. Part of play-action is throwing the ball when you think they're going to run it, when they think you're going to run it. Part of it is the companion of the play-action to the running game. Part of it is the execution of the offensive line/tight ends with the run blocking and part of it is the quarterback-running back mesh, action, whatever you want to call it. I think all those things come into play. You could have the best run-action in the world on second-and-20 and I don't know how many defensive players are going to go flying up in there. You could have not very good action on fourth-and-inches and you probably get a lot of guys even if it isn't a great fake. I think there are a lot of different variables on that. I think one of the key things on play-action that's a critical part of the play is just who you're trying to fake. Who are you trying to fake? Are you trying to stop the pass rush? Or are you trying to get a particular player – a safety or linebacker or a deep field player, like on a flea-flicker as an example – are you trying to get somebody there to react and then you have a complementary part of the pattern that attacks that area of the defense. I think if you're trying to stop the pass rush by play-action then that's one thing. If you're trying to affect a linebacker or a safety to come up then you want to have maybe the type of fake that you think will get him to react based on what he's seen on film or based on a play that you're running that marries up with that action. Then you run some type of complementary route to try to take advantage of that reaction that you hope that you get. Then there's all the misdirection plays where you try to get everybody to go this way so somebody goes back the other way, whether that's an over-route or a crossing route or a fake crossing route that comes back the other way or some kind of bootleg or whatever it happens to be but it's kind of a little bit of the same. So, again, what it comes down to on play-action, I think for me and the game planning is, 'OK, what are we trying to do here? What's the purpose of the play? Are we trying to affect this guy, affect that guy, affect the pass rush, trying to get him to flow? What are we trying to get out of it?' Depending on what you're trying to get, I think that determines what type of play you want to design.